Hillary Clinton Praises Nancy Reagan for Her "Low-Key Advocacy" on HIV/AIDS

March 11th 2016

Alex Mierjeski

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faced fierce criticism for her comments about former first lady Nancy Reagan's impact on HIV/AIDS.

After crediting former first lady Nancy Reagan with sparking "a national conversation" about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s in an MSNBC interview on Friday, Clinton issued an apology after facing backlash online.

"While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I'm sorry," Clinton said in a statement.

The controversial comments came on Friday afternoon during an MSNBC segment on the former first lady's funeral at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

But Clinton, in remembering the first lady, was deemed by many to be far too generous in her praise.

"It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s. And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan—in particularly Mrs. Reagan—we started a national conversation, where before, nobody would talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it. And that too is something that I really appreciate with her very effective, low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public consciousness, and people began to say, 'hey, we’ve got to do something about this too.'"

As many on social media immediately pointed out, both Reagans are generally remembered for their inactivity and aversion to acknowledging the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

In an interview with the Guardian, Dr. Marcus Conant — an early figure in the professional diagnoses and treatment of AIDS — said that the First Lady's response only addressed legal matters, not public health concerns.

“Her response was [that] this was a legal problem, not a medical problem,” Conant said. Simply because of who gay men with Aids were and who their sexual partners were, she told him, “these people were breaking the law”.